California couple caught trying to smuggle dead toddler into Mexico

© Mike Blake
A couple was arrested on suspicion of murder after Mexican law enforcement caught them trying to sneak the body of a 2-year-old girl into Tijuana by concealing her in a duffle bag.

According to a statement from the San Diego Police Department, Johnny Lewis Hartley, 39, and Mercy Mary Becerra, 43, were arrested midday Tuesday when trying to cross the border on foot. They were stopped at the San Ysidro Land Port of Entry by customs agents at a secondary inspection point.

When officials X-rayed Hartley’s bag, they discovered the child. The girl is not their daughter, KTLA reported. Becerra attempted to flee, but she was apprehended and both were arrested and deported back to the US.

The couple was residents of Whittier, California and the San Diego Police Department Homicide Unit believe that the infant girl may have died in Whittier, KNSD reported. While the cause of death is still to be determined, Hartley and Becerra are scheduled to appear in court on Friday where they will be charged with first-degree murder and child cruelty.

Hartley was found to have a violent history and spent a number of years in and out of jail, the San Diego Tribune reported. In 1999, he was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter and possessing, manufacturing or selling a deadly weapon. Aspects of the case imply that he may have been involved in gang activity.

He spent another two years and eight months in prison when he was found guilty of possessing drugs with intent to sell along with drug paraphernalia.
In 2010, he was sentenced to three years in prison for being a felon in possession of a firearm with a gang enhancement. However, he may have gotten lucky for only three years as other charges, such as attempted murder and assault with a firearm, were dropped.

Becerra spent 180 days in jail and three years on probation after pleading guilty to selling or transporting a controlled substance when she was 19. The rest of her charges were merely vehicle infractions and misdemeanors.

In the meantime, the mystery of who that little girl was and how she ended up in a duffle bag in Mexico remains to be explained.